Aesop, the Greek storyteller and slave who died in the middle of the sixth century BC, is famous for such fables as “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Dog and the Shadow,” and “The Country Mouse and the City Mouse.” So popular was the mouse fable that the Roman poet Horace included it in his Satires (35-33 BC), where he compared country living favorably to city living. Marcus Aurelius did the same in his Meditations (167 AD).
In the fable, the city mouse visits his cousin in the country. They eat a simple meal of grass, corn, and dried berries with cool water. The city mouse derides such plainness and invites his cousin to the city to see what real cuisine is like. There, the two dine on cheese, fruit, and grains of all sorts in the house where the city mouse lives. But after being harassed by a cat and nearly eaten, the county mouse decides he has had enough and returns home, preferring the peace and security of a rustic life to the opulence of the city.
I am reminded of this fable as I look over the presidential election map of 2020. What I see at the county level is not a division of red states and blue states but clusters of blue in oceans of red. The clusters are urban areas, and it doesn’t matter whether they are located in red states or blue ones. The reddest states (e.g., Texas, Alaska, Kentucky) have blue clusters. In fact, an urbanite on the Upper West Side has more in common, politically, with a suburbanite of Dallas than with the owner of the deli across the street.
The real differentiator in elections appears not to be red states, blue states, East, West, North, or South, but city versus country. Urbanites often live by a set of progressive values like inclusion, equality, and openness to change. Those in rural areas are inclined to value individual freedom, family, and loyalty to inherited traditions, including religion. But as people move into cities, they take on urban values. Recall the popular, post-World War I song, “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?).” And as city dwellers move into historically rural areas, they affect the makeup of the electorate. This may explain, in part, Texas turning purple in the future, if it does.
What accounts for the change once a country mouse moves to the city? Certainly, exposure to other people, ideas, and languages plays a part. Loss of innocence has a huge effect. But, more importantly, the uprooting that takes place leaves the country mouse lost in an urban wilderness without a compass. With the traditional guideposts gone, the mouse loses his way and commits to new relationships and a way of life that allows him to survive and be accepted by his city cousins.
We know that the mice are moving. According to the United Nations, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. In the USA, that figure already stands close to 80 percent. No wonder, then, that the progressive agenda includes the elimination of fossil fuels, further economic globalization, fewer immigration restrictions, abortion rights, small families, and adherence to UN regulations. You can only do this through the polis, the city state. The traditional nation state with country mouse values simply gets in the way.
As a native New Yorker, I can tell you that there is much to love about city dwelling, and I still roll my eyes whenever people complain about New York being “dirty.” However, I also recognize the value of small towns and rural America. They, like small businesses, form the backbone of the country. I do not want to see them wither away as cities grow into mega-metropolises and connect globally, bypassing middle America. I find the term “flyover country” disparaging.
I also find the new world envisioned by many of self-contained cities in which people live for work and form communities through an “Internet of things” frightening. That they will have access to free sex, drugs, and health care is of little comfort in the end. These are cheese, fruit, and assorted grains to a mouse.
The country mouse was right to scurry home.
Image credits: feature in public domain by Glen, M. A. “The Twelve Magic Changelings,” New York: Frederick Company Publishers, 1907. Project Gutenberg. Accessed January 30, 2018. Election map from Alicia Parlapiano, “There Are Many Ways to Map Election Results. We’ve Tried Most of Them,” The New York Times (November 1, 2016).